Mount Thomas Station Homestead

436 Birch Hill Road, Okuku

  • Mt Thomas Station Homestead. Original image submitted at time of registration.
    Copyright: NZHPT Field Record Form Collection. Taken By: A McEwan. Date: 21/02/1989.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3086 Date Entered 15th February 1990

Locationopen/close

City/District Council

Waimakariri District

Region

Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt Lot 1 DP 26064 (CT CB39C/518), Canterbury Land District

Summaryopen/close

The two-storeyed multi-gabled house at Mount Thomas is one of the earliest Canterbury homesteads still standing. It was built for John Thomas Brown (1816-1888). Brown, who trained as a surveyor in England, immigrated to Christchurch with his family in 1851 and took up part of the land which became Mount Thomas Station in 1853. It is thought that the family initially lived in a small mudbrick cottage, the remains of which still stand at Mount Thomas. Brown added subsequent runs to his holdings in 1854 and 1858 and it is thought the homestead was built sometime between 1857 and 1860.

The lower walls of Mount Thomas Station Homestead were also constructed from sun-dried bricks, while the upper walls were built of timber, with a shingle roof. Clay for the lower walls (and for the earlier cottage) was dug and dried on the property. The use of earth by early Canterbury settlers was reasonably common in the construction of their first homes. Earth construction, in its various forms, was cheap, relatively quick and, on the sparsely treed plains of Canterbury, enabled the early colonists to shelter themselves and their families. The many gables of Mount Thomas, with their plain bargeboards and finials, are a distinctive feature of the homestead. The informal arrangements of the gables and of the windows are typical of the early Canterbury houses. The homestead was extended at various times, which added to its rambling charm. The adobe walls were covered with weatherboards and the roof with corrugated iron.

Although Brown started Mount Thomas as a cattle run, by the 1870s the station was carrying 13,000 sheep. He later reduced this number by around a third and his eldest son, Edward Hatfield Brown (1846-1889), managed the station until his death. The station was then taken over by Edward's brother, Herbert (1860-1928). Herbert's main focus became gardening rather than farming. In 1910 he sold all the Mount Thomas sheep and first leased and then sold the farm. Herbert created, along with his wife, a garden described by garden historian Thelma Leggat as 'truly magnificent' and Mount Thomas became one of North Canterbury's gardening showpieces.

At some stage between 1890 and 1910 half-timbering, in imitation of the Tudor style, was added to the exterior of the upper floor and mock quoins were added to the lower. Both these decorative effects were subsequently removed. The house once included a small chapel but this was removed and the lancet windows from it were installed in the local church, St Matthew's, at Fernside. Mount Thomas is said to be the earliest house in Canterbury to be electrified, although this has proved difficult to verify.

Mount Thomas Station Homestead is one of the earliest houses built on the Canterbury Plains still standing. Typically, such early homesteads were demolished and replaced by more substantial houses as the runholders prospered. However, Mount Thomas survived and it remains as an important reminder of the style of house often built by the early runholders. Mount Thomas is closely associated with the early history of pastoralism in Canterbury and the house was lived in by descendants of Brown for over 100 years. The garden developed by Herbert and Annie Brown was acknowledged as one of the most magnificent in Canterbury at its peak and the bones of it still survive in the mature trees and the lake.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Mount Thomas Station Homestead is one of the earliest houses, still extant, built on the Canterbury plains. It has been closely associated with the growth of pastoralism in Canterbury virtually from its beginning. It was built and lived in by a prominent early Canterbury settler, John Thomas Brown, and his family and remains a significant historic dwelling in a region noted for its fine homesteads.

ARCHITECTURAL QUALITY:

Mount Thomas Station Homestead is typical of the houses which appeared on the Canterbury Plains shortly after the foundation of the runs. It is an important reminder therefore of the first decade of Canterbury pastoralism.

Principal among the architectural features of the house are the twelve inch sun dried brick walls, the picturesque composition of the exterior, especially when first built, and the dominant forms of the gabled dormers. Clay for the adobe brick was dug up on the site, this method of construction being cheap but more sophisticated than simple cob as it produces a more refined wall surface which does not taper. The restoration work being undertaken by the Shersons has revealed the brick walls beneath the plaster on the ground floor, providing a fascinating insight into this pioneer building technique.

TOWNSCAPE/LANDMARK VALUE:

The homestead stands within an attractive garden setting which is gradually being enhanced by the present owners.

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Construction Professionalsopen/close

Brown, John Thomas (1816-88)

Brown was a surveyor who immigrated with his family to New Zealand from England in 1851. Although not an architect he designed and built his first two houses and was also instrumental in the construction and consecration of St Matthew's Church, Fernside (1874).

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

DESCRIPTION:

A large part of the land which was to become Mount Thomas Station was taken up by John Cowell Boys early in 1851, but as he failed to stock the station within the required year his license was revoked and subsequently taken up by John Thomas Brown. Brown was born in Norwich and trained and practised as a surveyor in England before immigrating to New Zealand in 1851 with his wife and family.

Brown had gained some farming experience in England and he appears to have immigrated to New Zealand in order to take up land on the Canterbury plains. He consolidated his property by taking up the leases of another two runs in 1854 and 1858, stocking the land with cattle at first and then running sheep. Between 1855 and 1860 Brown let the entire station to the Maude brothers but he then managed the property himself until 1874. Brown and Thomas William Maude (1832-1905) were also partners in Ashwick Station, Burke's Pass at this time, their alliance no doubt strengthened by Emily Brown's marriage to Maude in 1861.

Thomas had a long association with the hotel industry and he was one of the original directors of the Canterbury Brewing, Malting and Distilling Company in 1867. He was also President of the Canterbury Jockey Club in 1866, 1867 and 1872. After his wife's death in 1881 John Thomas remarried and lived at 'Abberley', St Albans until he died at the age of 72.

In 1886 John Thomas Brown's youngest son, Herbert, was appointed manager of Mount Thomas after his brother Edward had become too ill to do the job. Four years later the station's leasehold land was offered for sale, but, as the Brown family did not want it, Walter Nicholls purchased the land. This left Herbert with about 6000 acres of freehold land, most of which he sold in 1910. Having married Annie Emily Mannering (1862-1941) in 1891, Herbert was apparently more interested in gardening than farming, and the couple developed one of the most beautiful gardens in the province in the early years of this century. The homestead was occupied by members of the Brown family until purchased by the present owners in 1985.

Physical Description

ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION:

The house is a two-storeyed colonial homestead which has been altered and enlarged since it was originally built. The turn of the century modifications are clearly revealed by the very additive nature of the downstairs floor plan and by the visible enclosure of over half of the original verandah. As the house now stands, the front door opens off the verandah into a hall which runs half the length of the house, providing access to the dining room, two living rooms, a bedroom with en suite bathroom, stairway, toilet and kitchen. From the latter one can enter the original kitchen, pantry and scullery as well as the servants quarters, which were also later additions.

The first floor is apparently unaltered, however, and contains five bedrooms, a bathroom and an L-shaped hall at the top of a single flight of steep and fairly narrow stairs. Arranged beneath seven gabled dormers these rooms all have 'steeply sloping ceilings-cum-walls' into which are set three-pane casement windows and ventilators which do not appear to be original. The homestead's exterior is an attractive, if somewhat piecemeal, composition of flat-roofed bay windows, vine-covered verandahs and dormers with plain bargeboards and finials.

MODIFICATIONS:

1890-1910 Alterations in two stages - cosmetic and structural

1. Half timbering first floor; mock quoins ground floor, (both treatments now removed). Drawing room extended to front verandah to accommodate a bay window and a chapel lit by lancet windows - one adobe brick wall removed. Verandah lowered in section sheltering the front door. Section of verandah running up to kitchen chimney enclosed.

2. Chapel removed, windows installed in St. Matthew's, Fernside. Drawing room further extended, corner bay window added - second adobe wall removed. Bay window added in dining room. Rear living room extended to line of verandah - two adobe walls removed. Kitchen chimney removed, same wall bay window added to bedroom. All verandah roofs flattened save for section over living room extension. Original kitchen partitioned; extra door cut in adobe and resulting corridor used for storage and access to toilet. Servants rooms built at rear.

1985 - Present owners undertaking extensive repair and restoration programme. To date the partition wall in 'new' kitchen has been removed to be replaced by windows. The rotting exterior weatherboards are slowly being replaced and the office has been removed.

Notable Features

Eighteen hectares of exotic trees had already been planted as windbreaks by the time Herbert Brown took over Mount Thomas Station with his new wife Annie (nee Mannering, also known as Dot). The couple began by planting, among other things, the ferns they had collected on their West Coast honeymoon. Their garden became noted for its collection of over a thousand roses, Mrs Brown's prize chrysanthemums, its various water features, and its variety of imported plants. Mount Thomas remained in the hands of descendants of Herbert and Annie until the 1980s, but lack of money and time meant the garden gradually disappeared.

Also, the drawing rooms panelled ceiling and the kauri fire surround in the living room, said to have been made by a passing swagger in return for food and shelter.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1857 - 1860

Modification
1890 - 1910
Addition of Tudor half-timbering and quoins

Addition
1890 - 1910
Over half the original verandah was enclosed and additions were made to the ground floor

Modification
1985 -
The partition wall in 'new' kitchen has been removed to be replaced by windows. The rotting exterior weatherboards are slowly being replaced and the office has been removed.

Construction Details

Adobe brick, weatherboards, with an inner lining of concrete on the ground floor only; casement windows; floors/ceilings of imported spruce with hoop iron tongues; corrugated iron roof over original shingles.

Completion Date

19th July 2002

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Acland, 1975

L.G.D. Acland, The Early Canterbury Runs, 4th ed., Christchurch, 1975

pp.81-82

Christchurch Star

Christchurch Star

John Wilson, 'An historic landmark', 16 December 1989

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1903

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 3, Canterbury Provincial District, Christchurch, 1903

p521

MacDonald Biographies

G.R. MacDonald, Dictionary of Canterbury Biographies, Canterbury Museum, n.d.

Parr, 1951

S Parr, Canterbury Pilgrimage: the first hundred years of the Church of England in Canterbury, New Zealand, Christchurch, 1951

p190

Pinney, 1971

R Pinney, Early South Canterbury Runs, Wellington, 1971

pp36-9

Strongman, 1984

Thelma Strongman, The Gardens of Canterbury: A History, Wellington, 1984

pp.152-7

Sweely, 1988

G.C. Sweely, 'An Architectural History of the Early Ashley County', Honours Research Paper, University of Canterbury, 1988

Press

The Press

October 23 1985, p8

Porter, 1983

Frances Porter (ed), Historic Buildings of Dunedin, South Island, Methuen, Auckland, 1983.

pp114,116-8

Bruce, 1932

A.S. Bruce, The Early Days of Canterbury, Simpson & Williams Ltd., Christchurch 1932.

pp56-7

Hawkins, 1983

D.N. Hawkins, Rangiora, Rangiora Borough Council, Rangiora, 1983

pp44, 96, 120

Mair, 1968

A.J. Mair & J.A. Hendry, Homes of the Pioneers, Caxton Press, Christchurch, 1968

no. 27

Canterbury Public Library

Canterbury Public Library

Genealogical Indexes and Shipping Lists (1850-2)

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.